Incredible war


1. The India-Pakistan war of 1947-48 was the first of the many misadventures by Pakistan to annex the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. This ‘Kashmir War of 1947-48' shaped the destinies of the two countries which emerged post-partition. But for the air lift of Indian Troops by Royal Indian Air Force, in the early hours of 27th October, 1947 from Delhi to Srinagar which was menacingly threatened by Pakistan forces, the history and map of India might well have been quite different. The valiant actions of the Indian Army and Air Force rolled back the blatant aggression of Pakistan military and saved Jammu & Kashmir from the marauders.

2. A number of books have been written on the Kashmir War of 1947-48, one of which is the ‘official history'-the only official history of free India's wars to be published so far. This war has been referred to by historians as an operation, a conflict or even just a police action even though it lasted 438 days, still remains the longest war fought in the nation's history. Further, all these books have covered the exploits of army units and formations in detail, while none of them has adequately covered the air operations.

3. This book is the history of a most incredible war wherein, for the first time in nearly six decades after the war, the glorious record of the Indian Air Force and the valour of its air warriors have been well chronicled. The author, Air Marshal Bharat Kumar, PVSM AVSM (Retd.) had an illustrious career in the IAF as a fighter pilot. Amongst various other distinguished assignments, he functioned as the AOC in C of an operational air command. The author has researched the subject by passionately collating data and information from various books and journals published in India and abroad, narrations and views of some key personnel who had actively participated in the war, corroborating the facts and figures with whatever official records available.

4. The author has appropriately structured the contents for easy understanding even for an average reader not well acquainted with military operations. The first chapter covers the background, highlighting the structure and organisation of defence forces and decision making process of the two contending nations. The author has also elucidated the geographical aspects of terrain, weather, communications etc, supplemented by maps, as these were principal factors for planning and undertaking the military operations in the Kashmir theatre. These factors were more pertinent to the air operations and their outcome, as the impoverished airfields, high altitude terrain, unpredictable and adverse weather etc offered the greatest challenges to aircraft operations. In the subsequent chapters the author has narrated the air operations suitably interspersed within the overall ground operations. These have been arranged as per the various sub battles fought in different sectors, against the argued logic of chronological presentation, as the air operations were being conducted for the various battle fronts almost simultaneously. Such a presentation helps to appreciate the scale and type of air operations and their effect on the outcome of the overall military operations in the respective sectors.

5. After partition of assets, the RIAF of independent India was allotted with six fighter squadrons and only one transport squadron, while it received only one-third of other equipment and spares which was disproportionately lower than Pakistan's share. Further, regular supplies were disrupted as most of the equipment depots remained in Pakistan resulting in poor ac serviceability. Additionally there was a shortage of trained manpower, particularly qualified aircrew. However, when RIAF was soon plunged into the war, its personnel strived and ensured that all available assets were made operational and its aircrew adequately trained in air operations.

6. Apart from the widely known air transport operations in air bridging Srinagar, Poonch and Leh, the RIAF Spitfire, Tempest and Harvard fighter aircraft were employed in offensive missions in un-chartered areas, with virtually no communications or navigational facilities or target information. RIAF undertook air drop missions, reconnaissance, interdiction and search and strike missions. It also undertook Psy-ops wherein leaflets were dropped by the Tempest aircraft suggesting the intruders to surrender to the defenders. The credit for success of these missions is attributed to the dedicated and motivated RIAF personnel and their exemplary leaders.

7. In this war, the senior officers were in the forefront and led by personal example. Air Commodore ‘Baba' Mehar Singh, Commanding Officer of No. 12 Squadron, undertook the first sortie from Srinagar to Leh, then the highest airfield in the world, in an un-pressurised DC-3 Dakota aircraft and that too without oxygen. This sortie paved the way for successive sorties by other pilots which helped save Ladakh for India. Mehar Singh was again the first to land at Poonch airstrip. Similarly people like Wing Commander Ranjan Dutt, SASO No 1 (Opl) Gp, and Wing Commander H Moolgavkar flew many hazardous operational missions. Four of these officers were later awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, twenty nine RIAF personnel were conferred the Vir Chakra and one officer received the Kirti Chakra award.

8. The author has comprehensively projected the fact that Air Power saved Kashmir for India, on more than one occasions in the war. But for RIAF, Kashmir would have been lost on 27 October 1947 itself, Poonch could not have survived without air maintenance, Leh would have been lost more than once if RIAF had not flown in reinforcements. Moreover Indian Army could not have sustained itself in the Kashmir theatre without RIAF support.

9. The Indian Air Force itself has not adequately recorded its own history. Very few records have survived the ravages of time, most of the key participants have passed away and those who are alive have very blurred and disjointed memories of the operations. Owing to painstaking persistence and strict attention to detail and accuracy, the author has collated available information to build the comprehensive picture of air operations in the war. The book also has twenty one pages of photographs of the brave air warriors, their aircrafts and some battle scenes of the war, which are of very good quality in spite of their vintage and are certainly any collector's delight.

10. The book grasps the attention of the reader right from the first page and the lucid narration captivates till the end. Any reader would be left admiring the courage and audacity of the air warriors who valiantly fought the Kashmir war and quashed the Pakistani aggression, braving against all odds. A military reader would additionally draw inspiration from the ingenuity in planning and execution of air operation to achieve the national military objective. This book is a must read for all air warriors.

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